Project managers play the lead role in planning, executing, monitoring, controlling, and closing projects. They are accountable for the entire project scope, project team, resources, and the success or failure of the project.
Experience – knowledge or skill in a particular job or activity that you have gained
Responsibility – doing the things we are supposed to do and accepting the positive or negative outcomes of our actions.
1 What is your experience in your field? Are you a pro?
2 What are your main responsibilities?
1. Tell me about your typical relationship with project sponsors.
It's very important that project sponsors are in the loop throughout the project since they provide resources that the project needs to be completed. In addition, project sponsors can provide valuable feedback to project managers as the project progresses. Talk to the interviewer about how often you typically contact sponsors and in what manner.
"In my career, I've dealt with many different kinds of sponsors. Sometimes they want to be very involved in the project and other times they don't. When I'm introduced to the sponsor(s) at the beginning of the project I try to determine (learn about) their preferences and then communicate accordingly during the project. If a problem arises that my team and I are unable to resolve on our own, I would definitely contact the sponsor to get their thoughts. In many cases, the feedback that the project sponsor provides is extremely helpful. For many of the sponsors I've worked with during larger projects, I scheduled weekly meetings or calls with them where I gave updates and discussed main issues."
2. Give me an example of a time when you successfully handled intense pressure.
Project managers need to have the ability to manage urgent deadlines, different personalities, sometimes unreasonable expectations, and more during complex (difficult) projects. All of these moving parts can create a lot of stress, and the interviewer wants to make sure that you can effectively manage high-pressure situations. Provide an example of a time when you did so successfully.
"There's no doubt that there's a lot of stress and pressure in the life of a project manager. I personally rethink the stress and look at it positively; I like variety in my work life and many times enjoy the challenges that come up. I see them as puzzles for me to figure out as quickly and efficiently as possible. In my last role, we were two weeks out from the deadline with a few critical issues still needing to be resolved when one of my key team members got very sick and had to be hospitalized. I knew that I had to fix this fast so the project would stay on track. I re-assigned that person's high-priority tasks to other team members I trusted and hired some freelancer workers I had used in the past to handle his lower-priority tasks. I kept tabs on everything, and in the end, we pulled it off (managed to do smth successfully) and the project was completed successfully."
3. What project management methodologies do you follow?
There are many different project management methodologies out there. You will want to discuss the ones that you personally use and explain why you choose to follow them. Try to give an example or two of the times you've used different methodologies. Show that you are knowledgeable in this area and that you understand that some methodologies work better in certain situations than others
"I know and have used many different methodologies in the past, including waterfall, critical path, critical chain, scrum, adaptive, and event chain. And maybe even more. There are obviously many to choose from, but in general, I always consider the PMBOK in every project I run and rely on its best practices. Waterfall is also a methodology I usually follow because of how straightforward and linear it is, especially when I'm in charge of a highly structured project. When I'm working with a smaller team in the software development realm, I normally employ (use) the Scrum methodology. I am comfortable using many different methodologies; I decide which one to use based on the type, size, and cost."
4. Do you prefer to handle things yourself or to delegate to others?
This is the interviewer's way of finding out if you are a micromanager or not. Most likely, the interviewer is looking for someone who is comfortable delegating tasks to others because trying to do everything by yourself is a recipe for disaster (not effective), particularly during a large project. You want to show that you are a leader who puts together strong teams and then allows others to do their jobs so you can do yours.
"I have learned throughout the years that I simply can't do everything myself! But I can set high standards that I expect my teams to meet and even exceed. So I start by assembling (warriors of the night, assemble!) good teams that are filled with people who are smart and enthusiastic. Then I lay out (say/communicate/explain) my expectations for each of them - using project management software - and clearly communicate these to them. Finally, I trust them to complete their tasks but provide supervision (instructions) along the way if they need it. I also continually monitor everyone's progress using the software so if anyone falls behind, I can discuss this with them and develop a short-term action plan to resolve the issue."
5. What is the most important thing a project manager does?
This is a question where you can demonstrate the knowledge you have gained (received) as a project manager. Think about what you spend the most time doing and some of your key responsibilities
“I have found that communication is one of the most crucial elements of this role. There are typically many moving parts involved in complex projects (difficult projects), each contributing to a certain portion of the goal. For everyone to be able to do their jobs efficiently and well, it is important that we are all on the same page (in agreement). It is also important that the progress of the project is communicated to clients and other key stakeholders. Basically, communication is what makes a project go smoothly.”
6. Have you ever had a project that did not meet the deadline or budget?
Missing the deadline or budget are two common issues that project managers encounter (deal with/face). Here, you can show how you handle project setbacks (delay). You can use the STAR method to answer this question:
- Situation: Explain the issue in a positive, constructive way.
- Task: Explain your role in the situation.
- Action: Explain what you did to resolve or address the situation.
- Result: Explain how your solution had a positive impact.
“I was working on a project with a client, and they wanted to add a certain feature to their custom software that would put them over the allocated time. As the project manager, I needed to decide whether we should add this feature and miss our deadline or spend less time on another part of the project.
I met with my team to understand how much time it would take to add the feature. Once I had a detailed answer for the client, I presented them with the options. They decided that they would accept a later deadline for the feature. We ended up delivering the finished product a month later than the original deadline, but the client was happy with the outcome (result).”
7. What sort of project management tools do you use?
Each company will have a different set of project management software. Explaining the tools you have used will show your software experience, especially if you have advanced (pro) technical skills with a certain platform. Check to see if the job listing includes the tools they use and whether you have relevant experience with them. If not, discuss the programs you are most familiar with (knowledgable about) and explain your desire to learn.
“I have mainly used Microsoft Project in the past, but my last organization used Basecamp, which was great for team collaboration. Each stakeholder was able to add ideas to the online board and choose the best to address the issue or challenge at hand. I also use Trello for managing the team's time and assign tasks."
8. What escalation paths do you use?
An escalation path is how you handle a project issue when it comes up. Your answer should demonstrate your critical thinking and problem-solving skills. You can answer with a specific time you encountered (faced) a problem while working on a project and how you handled (managed) it.
“If I have the resources, knowledge, and time to solve a problem with my team, that is my first course of action. If I feel the issue involves a sensitive matter, requires high-level approval or I just need additional input (advice/help) on my decided course of action, I need to work with my sponsor on solving the issue. No matter the problem, I feel it is always best for the team and my own professional development to use every resource available to get as far as I can in solving the issue before bringing in others.
I was once working on a project where the sales team promised the client a feature our program could not support. Basically, I had to involve the project sponsor. She agreed that it was impossible to deliver the feature.
It was a difficult conversation with the client, but we managed to reach a compromise. We started working on a way to support the feature, and will offer it to the client free of charge when it is ready.”
9. How do you handle team conflicts?
Managing a team is an important part of project management. You must ensure your team can work together to deliver a product or service. Try to answer this question with an example of how you were able to successfully handle a conflict.
“I always encourage my team to try to resolve conflicts on their own first. Letting my team work things out (manage or solve something together) together helps them build up their relationships and improves their communication. Sometimes it is necessary for me to get involved.
I once managed a team where a business analyst and developer were having trouble agreeing on a solution to a problem. I had a meeting with just the three of us where we spent about 30 minutes discussing the solutions and how they would affect the project. In the end, we decided to go with (choose) the business analyst's solution since it would take the least amount of time and money. It is important to both communicate and actively listen when resolving conflicts.”
10. How do you handle underperforming team members?
“There was a time when my integration developer was having a hard time extracting data from a client website. I tried to give him time to work on a solution, but eventually, we started missing deadlines. I scheduled a meeting with him so we could discuss what was going on. Since I am not an expert developer, I had one of our senior integration developers join us. Instead of doing the part herself, the senior member helped my developer work out (create/design) a plan to extract the data so he could learn the process. He ended up completing the task the next day and never had issues with it again.”
11. What was your most successful project?
This question is a way to demonstrate that you know the steps you can take to be successful. Think about your most successful project and why you had a positive outcome. Use the STAR method to give an idea of the project from start to finish.
“My most successful project was to create an advisor portal our client could use to manage customers' assets. I had an internal kickoff (first company meeting) where I worked with my team to develop a reasonable timeline, budget, and detailed steps we would take to complete the portal. Afterward, we had a meeting with the client.
This is where we had a minor issue. The client was not happy with our original timeline. They wanted the portal three weeks earlier than what we proposed. I explained that in order to complete it earlier, we would have to increase the budget so we could use more resources. They were hesitant (not sure) at first but ended up agreeing to a small increase in budget.
After that, I had a daily short meeting with my team and weekly status calls with the client to give them updates and ensure the deliverable looked and worked as expected. We delivered the portal on time and within the budget. The client was so pleased with the user-friendly interface and functionality that they had us create phone and tablet applications, too. The key to success was constant communication and managing expectations throughout the project."